13 Ways to Save Money on Food While Traveling

biscuits and gravy Roosevelt Dining Room

One of the biggest expenses, when traveling, is our food budget.  Hey, it’s one of the biggest expenses we have when we don’t travel! So it comes as no surprise that if you want to stretch your travel budget, a good place to start is with food. Here are some easy ways to save money on food and stretch your budget a little further when you’re traveling.

Top Ways to Save Money on Food While Traveling

Book a room with a kitchen

This is my favorite way to save money on food while traveling, particularly if I’m staying in one place for an extended period of time. 

For example, when I go to Maui, I stay away from the large resort hotels and instead book a condo with a kitchen and an outdoor grill.  This saves me a ton of money on eating out!

Even when staying in a place for only 2 or 3 nights, I try to book a room with a kitchenette.  That way, I have a microwave and a mini-fridge, so I can still make simple meals from my room if needed.

Go to the grocery store

Grocery stores are a great way to save money on food while traveling.  Whether you have a kitchen or not, you can purchase food to eat throughout your travels.  

Fruit, snack bars, bread, peanut butter, nuts, bottled water, and so on are excellent options that save you money on food. Plus, many grocery stores also have a deli where they serve fresh salads and hot dishes too.  This is another option that is cheaper than eating out.  You can even purchase stuff for a picnic and turn it into an experience rather than just a meal.

Pack snacks and water

Often when I’m traveling, I will spend the entire day sightseeing.  I’ll leave after breakfast and won’t return until late afternoon.  One of the best ways I keep going and keep from getting hangry is to pack snacks and water in my day bag. This not only saves money on food and drinks, but it also makes sightseeing more enjoyable.  

I’ve personally found that when my blood sugar dips down, I get tired and uninterested in seeing stuff.  If I can take a short 10-minute snack break, it turns my energy level around, and I’m ready to go again for at least another couple of hours.

Pack a refillable water bottle or, as mentioned above, purchase bottled water at the grocery store and keep it in your room to take with you each day.  This saves a lot of money vs. buying single bottles at a time.

Split meals with your traveling companion

If you’re traveling with another person, why not consider splitting a meal.  My hubby and I do this when we travel and also when eating out near home.  We’ve found that the portion sizes at most places are more than enough for two people to share.  It’s a great way to save money and still have the experience of dining out.

Book hotels with free breakfast

Another easy way to save money on food while traveling is to book a room with breakfast included. This not only saves you money but also saves you time.  It’s very convenient to get up in the morning, grab breakfast at the hotel, and then head out for the day.  Some hotels even offer takeaway fruit options so you can have a snack for later.

Farmers Markets

Farmers markets are a fantastic way to support local farmers and artisans.  I enjoy browsing these markets for homemade souvenirs as well as for food you might not find anywhere else.  Often you’ll find seasonal fruit, baked goods, and a variety of food vendors.  It’s a fun local experience that gives you a feel for the neighborhood you’re visiting.

Eat lunch rather than dinner

Okay, I’m not suggesting you need to skip dinner altogether, but rather than you eat lunch at a restaurant rather than dining in for dinner.  Often, you can get the same menu for lunch as you would for dinner, but at lunch prices.  

Many restaurants even offer lunch specials that come with a small appetizer and your main dish for much less than you would pay at dinner.  Ask about specials before ordering.

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No kitchen, no problem

If you’ve got a room with a coffee maker and a mini-fridge, you can still save money on eating in even if you don’t have a microwave or kitchen. I use the coffee maker to make oatmeal for breakfast and ramen noodles for lunch or dinner. 

Additionally, if all I have is a mini-fridge, I purchase bread, peanut butter, and jam and make sandwiches to take on the go.  Just make sure you don’t forget to pack a knife and some zip lock bags for your sandwiches.  Bagels with cream cheese, yogurt, and bottled smoothies are also great options when all you have is a mini-fridge.

Eat where the locals go

If you eat at restaurants close to the main tourist attractions, you can be sure you are paying a higher price than if you were to go off the beaten path.  

Try to find out where the locals eat.  Ask around and take a little extra time to walk a few blocks out of the tourist areas. If you look in a restaurant and you notice a lot of locals, the chances are that it’s cheaper and that the food is good!

Eat with a local

Several websites and apps allow you to meet with a local and share a meal or take a cooking class in someone’s home. This provides you with a unique experience to get to know the local culture better and to make a new friend.

  • Couchsurfing has been around for a while now, and although primarily used to find cheap lodging, you can also use it to find someone to share a meal with or tour the city with a local. Karen from Wanderlustingk explains how to do this, and gives some useful tips for staying safe.
  • Travelingspoon is another excellent way to meet a local and learning to cook a regional dish. Although this isn’t the cheapest option, if you look at it as both a meal and an experience, it’s a pretty good deal.  You will often spend as much on a meal at dinner as you will for the price of a cooking class through Travelingspoon.  Prices generally start around $20 and up.
Also, make sure to ask around before your trip and see if anyone you know has any friends or relatives living in the destination you are visiting.  I’ve done this before, and it is a great way to save money and also to meet someone who lives in your destination.  They are an excellent resource for useful tips, recommendations, and history of the area you’re visiting. 

Look for specials

Restaurants in many cities offer prixe fixe menus.  These offer you an incredible fixed price on a three-course menu that includes your appetizer, main dish, and dessert.  This is a great way to try a fine dining restaurant without spending a ton of money.  

Also, look for restaurants offering brunch specials and weekly dinner specials.  Many restaurants have once a week dinner specials where they serve a meal, say lobster, at a reduced rate.

Plan for special experiences

I understand that eating isn’t just about getting in your daily calories.  Food can be an experience too.  It’s a wonderful way to experience the local culture. So when you’re planning a trip, if you know, there is a particular food you want to try at your destination, plan ahead and pick out the best place to eat it.  Then budget for it. 

You can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for most of your trip but then splurge on those special occasions. I try to save money on food while traveling, but I allow for a couple of unique dining experiences.  This makes eating out more memorable.

I’ve splurged on Peking duck in Beijing (at lunch to save money), a five-course meal in Italy prepared by a prince (no kidding), and a fondue dinner in Switzerland (nothing is cheap there).  I sacrificed eating out each day, to save for a few special meals.

Skip Starbucks

Okay, don’t worry, I’d never tell you to skip coffee, however planning to make coffee in your room will save you a lot of money. Pack a travel french press from or an Aeropress, then all you need is some hot water and ground coffee, and you’re good to go! You may also want to bring a collapsible mug or refillable bottle that works for both hot and cold drinks.

Even if you use the coffee maker at your hotel or Airbnb, you may want to purchase some local coffee beans at the grocery store or if you’re lucky enough–a local coffee roaster. 

If you do plan to grab a cup of coffee at a cafe, order the roast of the day and get a drip coffee to save money. There are, of course, times where splurging on your favorite coffee is warranted. However, these are ways to save money on coffee for the rest of the time.

Suggested Meals You Can Make to Save Money on Food

Here are some ideas for foods you can make in your room.  Make sure to plan ahead and pack utensils, refillable water bottle, and any coffee filters or gear you need. It may take a little extra planning, but it can save you hundreds of money during your trip.

Breakfast

  • Breakfast bars
  • Bagels
  • Toast
  • Eggs
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal packets (I pack from home)
  • Fruit
  • Muffins/bakery items
  • Yogurt

Lunch/Dinner

  • Meats, cheeses and crackers from local grocery store or charcuterie
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Instant noodles
  • Salads (from deli or produce section)

Snacks

  • Jerky
  • Nuts
  • Fruit
  • Snack bars

Final Thoughts and Tips

Here are a few final tips to save money on food while traveling. 

Drink water with your meals. It’s amazing how much that one act can save you.  I ask for lemon slices in mine and pretend it’s lemonade.

Get take-out vs. dining in. Take your food to the park, or plan a cozy meal in your room. These little changes can add up to significant savings.

Look for food trucks street food.  You can try food you’d never eat at a restaurant and make fun memories doing it. Have you ever tried scorpion?  I have, it tasted like salted popcorn.  What about squid stuffed with a quail egg, okay, take it from me and skip that one.  If those don’t sound appealing, never fear there are other less adventurous options at street food markets too. It’s a great way to try a bunch of different foods and eat cheap!

This guide isn’t about never eating out or splurging, but on saving money and intentionally choosing to spend it on experiences that will provide memories to re-live when you’re back home.

Bon appetit!

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